The Turkish Statistical Institute estimates the total population of Türkiye at 86.409 million. Türkiye is historically and traditionally a country with majority Muslim population. According to the Turkish Government, 99% of the population is Muslim. On the other hand, the public opinion survey published in January 2019 by Turkish research and polling firm KONDA Research and Consultancy suggests that, while Sunni Muslims constitutes 91%, the rate of Alevi is 6%. Also, approximately 4% of the population self-identifies as atheist and nonbeliever. According to the 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom of the U.S. Department of State approximately 25 -31% of the population are Alevi, 4 % of the population are the Shia Jafari; 90,000 Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians (including migrants from Armenia); 25,000 Roman Catholics (including migrants from Africa and the Philippines), 12,000-16,000 Jews; 25,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians (also known as Syriacs); 15,000 Russian Orthodox Christians (mostly immigrants from Russia who hold residence permits); 10,000 Baha’is; 7,000-10,000 Protestant and Evangelical Christian denominations; 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses; fewer than 3,000 Chaldean Christians; fewer than 2,500 Greek Orthodox Christians; and fewer than 1,000 Yezidis; 300 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ); and there are also small, undetermined numbers of Bulgarian Orthodox, Nestorian, Georgian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Chaldean Catholic, and Maronite Christians.


Legally speaking, the preamble of the 1982 Turkish Constitution affirms “the eternal existence of the Turkish Motherland and Nation and the indivisible unity of the Sublime Turkish State”. Under Article 10, “Everyone is equal before the law without distinction as to language, race, colour, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion and sect, or any such grounds.” The principle of equality in the Constitution prevents the recognition of a political privilege to any group or person based on language, race, colour, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion and sect, or any such grounds and, therefore, excludes a “minority identity”, except for non-Muslims. There are no provisions concerning minorities in any of the Constitutions of the Republic period. Furthermore, Türkiye has a secular type of relation between State and religious groups since 1937, and according to the 1982 Turkish Constitution, secularism is one of the qualifications of the Republic that cannot be changed. Also, freedom of religion and conscience is protected under Article 24: “Everyone has the freedom of conscience, religious belief and conviction. Acts of worship, religious rites and ceremonies shall be conducted freely, as long as they do not violate the provisions of Article 14. No one shall be compelled to worship, or to participate in religious rites and ceremonies, or to reveal religious beliefs and convictions, or be blamed or accused because of his religious beliefs and convictions. Religious and moral education and instruction shall be conducted under state supervision and control. Instruction in religious culture and morals shall be one of the compulsory lessons in the curricula of primary and secondary schools. Other religious education and instruction shall be subject to the individual’s own desire, and in the case of minors, to the request of their legal representatives. No one shall be allowed to exploit or abuse religion or religious feelings, or things held sacred by religion, in any manner whatsoever, for the purpose of personal or political interest or influence, or for even partially basing the fundamental, social, economic, political, and legal order of the State on religious tenets”. According to Article 15 of the Constitution “Even under the circumstances of war, mobilization, a state of emergency […] no one shall be compelled to reveal his/her religion, conscience, thought or opinion, nor be accused on account of them […]”. The 1982 Constitution, on the one hand, has given a fundamental and superior role to the principle of secularism and, on the other hand, it has established the Presidency of Religious Affairs under Article 136 and has made religious education compulsory for primary and secondary schools under the supervision and control of the State


The Turkish Constitutional Court interprets the principle of secularism as (i) the non-intervention of religion to the State affairs and (ii) an interventionist, restrictive, controlling approach of State towards religious statements considering the historical facts. This is also reflected in certain religious services such as the services provided by the Presidency of Religious Affairs or religious education provided by the Ministry of National Education. In 2012, the Turkish Constitutional Court stated that one of the aims of the secular state was to build a political order where individuals could live peacefully together with their different beliefs, while preserving social diversity and that the individual choices and the lifestyle shaped by these choices were under the State protection. Despite the fact that, in this decision, the Court put a burden of positive obligations on the State for providing services such as religious education in schools, non-Muslim citizens and the citizens, who request so, can be exempted from these lessons (after the Hüseyin El and Nazlı Şirin El individual application decision of the Turkish Constitutional Court of 7 April 2022).


Türkiye, besides the Treaty of Lausanne, is party to many international and regional treaties related to human rights, and as per Article 90 of the 1982 Constitution, “international agreements duly put into effect have the force of law and no objection of unconstitutionality shall be raised with regard to these agreements. Moreover, in the case of a conflict between international conventions concerning fundamental rights and freedoms and the laws, due to differences in provisions on the same matter, the provisions of international agreements shall prevail”. The European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights case-law have been acknowledged as one of the sources of the Turkish legal system. However, Türkiye put certain reservations and made interpretative declarations for certain treaties. Türkiye ratified the Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights, but put reservations to Article 2 of this Protocol, which protects the right to education and also obliges States to respect the right of parents in the field of education. Moreover, Türkiye has not become a party to the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages and the Framework Convention for the Protection of Minorities.


Additionally, in the framework of the United Nations, by ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it is under the obligation to protect freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief in accordance with Article 18 of the Convention. However, with its reservation on Article 27 of the Convention, it has reserved the right to interpret and apply the provision on the protection of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities in accordance with the relevant provisions and procedures of the Turkish Constitution and the Treaty of Lausanne. 


Türkiye, also with its reservation on paragraphs 3 and 4 of Article 13 (right to education) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, has limited its commitment to respect the freedom of parents to choose schools other than those established by public authorities for their children and to provide their children with religious and moral education in accordance with their own beliefs. It has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, again with reservations – on Articles 17 (right to access information), 29 (right to education) and 30 (protection of minorities) – and it has reserved the right to interpret and apply the said Articles in accordance with the relevant provisions and procedures of the Turkish Constitution and the Treaty of Lausanne.


Additionally, the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which gave additional rights for the minorities to maintain their differences, provided in its Article 37 that the provisions on the protection of minorities were to be recognized as fundamental laws. However, as per Article 45 of the Treaty, the rights conferred by the provisions on the non-Muslim minorities of Türkiye will be similarly conferred by Greece on the Muslim minority in her territory. So, there has been a conditional approach of the reciprocal application of the Treaty for the Muslim minority in Greece and the non-Muslim minority in Türkiye, instead of a regime of parallel obligations. The Treaty of Lausanne continues to be an extremely important legal document in terms of the protection of freedom of religion and belief, especially in its collective dimension; however, the restrictive interpretation and application of these rights remains a serious obstacle to effective protection for minorities. 

        Esra Ünal




General information on minority issues (including some references to religious ones) can be found at the page devoted to Türkiye in Minority Rights Group International, Minorities and Indigenous People in Turkey https://minorityrights.org/country/turkey/ 

Akbulut O. (2005). The State of Political Participation of Minorities in Turkey – An Analysis under the ECHR and the ICCPR, International Journal on Minority and Group Rights, n. 12, 375-395 

Akbulut O. (2021). Azınlık Haklarının Tarihsel Gelişimi, İstanbul: On İki Levha [only in Turkish, trans. Historical Development of Minority Rights]

Bertuccelli F., Gavrila M., Grassi F.L. (eds.) (2023). Minorities and Diasporas in Turkey. Public Images and Issues in Education, Roma, Sapienza Università Editrice, https://www.editricesapienza.it/sites/default/files/6145_9788893772730_Minorities_Diasporas_Turkey_OA_eBook.pdf 

Dinçkol B. (1992). 1982 Anayasası Çerçevesinde ve Anayasa Mahkemesi Kararlarında Laiklik, İstanbul: Kazancı [only in Turkish, trans. Secularism in the Framework of 1982 Constitution and in the Decisions of the Constitutional Court]

Erdoğan B. (2000). Uluslararası Hukukta Azınlık Haklarının Korunması: BM ve Avrupa Sistemlerinin İncelenmesi, in Çitçi O. (ed.). Türkiye’de İnsan Hakları, Ankara: TODAİE [only in Turkish, trans. Protection of Minority Rights in International Law: Examining the US and European Systems, Human Rights in Turkey]

Eroğlu A.H. (1997). Osma66nlı Devletinde Yahudiler, Ankara [only in Turkish, trans. Jews in the Ottoman Empire]

Kalaycioğlu E. (2009). Democracy, Islam and Secularism in Turkey, in Brown N.J., Shahin E. (eds.). The Struggle Over Democracy in the Middle East: Regional and Politics and External Policies, Abingdon, Oxon, UK and NY, Routledge, 153-186

Kaya Ö. (2005). Tanzimat’tan Lozan’a Azınlıklar, 3rd Ed., İstanbul: Yeditepe [only in Turkish, trans. Minorities from the Tanzimat to Lausanne]

Kunnecke A. (2013). The Turkish Concept of “Minorities” – An irremovable Obstacle for Joining the EU?, European Scientific Journal, 77-88, https://eujournal.org/index.php/esj/article/view/2341/2214 

Yildirim, M. (2022). Din ve İnanç Özgürlüğünün Kolektif Boyutu, İstanbul: İstanbul Bilgi University Press [only in Turkish, trans. Collective Dimension of Freedom of Religion and Belief]

Oran B. (2018). Etnik ve Dinsel Azınlıklar: Tarih, Teori, Hukuk, Türkiye, İstanbul: Literatür [only in Turkish, trans. Ethnic and Religious Minorities: History, Theory, Türkiye]

Oran B. (2021). Minorities and Minority Rights in Turkey. From the Ottoman Empire to the Present State, Lynne Rienner Publishers 

Oran B. (2021). Minorities in Turkey I: Law and Reform, The Commentaries, n. 1, 49-56, https://journals.tplondon.com/com/article/view/1996/1274 

Özbudun E. (2012). Turkey: Plural Society and Monolithic State, in Kuru A.T., Stefan A. (eds.). Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey, New York, Colombia University Press

Yilmaz G. (2019). Minority Rights in Turkey. A Battlefield for Europeanization, New York, Routledge 

Tunç H. (2004). Uluslararası Sözleşmelerde Azınlık Hakları Sorunu ve Türkı̇ye, Journal of Gazi University Faculty of Law, No. 1-2, Ankara, https://dergipark.org.tr/tr/download/article-file/789848 [only in Turkish, trans. Minority Rights Issue in International Agreements and Turkey]



Data source: Todd M. Johnson and Brian J. Grim, eds., World Religion Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed August 2021)
Religion Pop 2020 RM Pct% 2020 Total Pop.
Catholics 45.000 0.05%  
Protestants 24.700 0.03%